Connect, know, like, trust, need – what do you do to make this work for you?

I frequently hear networking gurus stress a mantra that originated in the book ‘Endless Referrals, written by Bob Burg:
“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.”

I understand this is also the mantra shared at certain networking groups. The focus then is on encouraging you to make an effort to ensure you are easy to get to know, like and trust. But I think it is too simplistic.

There are two further elements I believe that demand your attention. One at the start and one that can float around at either end of the chain:

Connect – Know – Like – Trust – Need


Connect:
– People may connect with you face to face (eg: at a networking event) or online (eg: via social media, Linkedin or by engaging with you initially though commenting on your blog post or getting in touch after reading an article you have written or after hearing a talk you have presented).

Know
: People can only get to know you after you have connected with each other (face to face or online). Typically they will want to know more than just your name and profession. They are more likely to engage you or to refer you if they have more to go on than this. How easy do you make it for people to get to know you? Your background? Your interests on a professional and personal level? Which organisations do you belong to? What makes you you – as distinct from just another accountant?

Like
: People rarely engage or refer work to people they don’t like. There are exceptions to this principle. We tend to refer people to surgeons if we rate them even if they have no bedside manner. And some legal work is best done on our behalf by really tough negotiators. But in the main, likability is key. People like people who are helpful, kind, and not pushy.

Trust:
 People tend to choose accountants they can trust in two ways. to know your stuff (do you have sufficient expertise?) and to be a decent person?

Need:
No one ever engages an accountant unless they need one. Equally they rarely go around promoting their accountant until they hear that someone they know needs one. If no one you connect with needs an accountant or knows anyone who needs one, you won’t get much work!

So

Where do advertising and other forms of marketing fit into this analysis? At the beginning of course.  It is simply a way to encourage people who need an accountant to connect with you. Once they have done this you need to help them get to know you, then to like and trust you. This is why I suggest that ‘Need’ can float around either end of the chain. If someone realises they need an accountant but doesn’t know anyone suitable they may respond to your advert or your other marketing promotions and connect with you.
When you recognise that there are 5 links in this chain you may be able to see why your networking, marketing and online activities are not generating the business or referrals you seek. Are you meeting, engaging or connecting with enough people who need your services? Are you going to the right places? Are you active online in the right places? Are you encouraging the right referrals? Are you then helping your new connections to get to know, like and trust you – both generally and specifically to do the work and give the advice they need?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, feel free to connect with me 😉  I’d love to do something to help you. Let’s have a chat and see what I can do >>>>
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The 5 key social media risks to your practice

This post adopts a different approach to usual. In it I share 5 key social media risks and offer pragmatic advice to help you manage the inherent risks.

1 – Posts on behalf of the firm 

The biggest risk here is of boring your intended audience! Social media encourages interaction. This happens less frequently when the posts are not attributable to a specific person.

If you or a social media manager post in the name of the firm, you just want to ensure they don’t give, share or repeat dubious advice. You should give them clear guidance by reference to your firm’s strategy – and this will probably vary across different platforms. I’ve addressed this on previous blog posts.

I would also discourage you from saying “I” in any messages posted in the firm’s name. Will anyone know who “I” is?

2 – What you post yourself

Keep it professional and only give advice in direct personal messages to clients. You probably don’t owe a duty of care to strangers who might see and act on your advice posted on social media. But you want to avoid having to defend any allegations they might make that your advice was wrong.

You also want to avoid getting into public arguments over the advice or views you have shared on social media. Beware of the potential impact on your reputation. Keep it positive if you can.

Over the years I have become used to receiving feedback in respect of advice I share online. I tend to be very careful to avoid giving definitive advice as so much depends on context. This also means that I can generally diffuse any challenges I receive by accepting that another view may be valid in certain circumstances. What I never do is get into public arguments. If someone seems determined to pursue an argument I will allow them to have the last word. I prefer to allow my professional approach to speak for my reputation than my desire to have the last word and, in so doing, to encourage trolls.

You will also want to avoid breaching client confidences, sharing details of client meetings (that identify the client) of the advice you have given them. Remember that some social media platforms tag your messages with your location. So avoid posting anything from a client’s premises (or anywhere nearby) if you don’t want them to be identified.

3 – What staff and colleagues post

The same principles apply here as for your own posts of course. You will want to encourage professional behaviour, for everyone to accept responsibility and to be accountable for what they post online.

I also encourage accountants to consider whether they want everyone in the firm to be consistent in their descriptions and references to the firm, services and the nature of their roles on their social media profiles (especially Linkedin).

4 – What third parties post

More and more people use social media to complain about poor service. Would you want to know if someone is trashing your firm’s reputation?

Fortunately it is less likely to happen if you aren’t a big well known brand. But anyone (including ex-members of staff) could post a message of dissatisfaction about you or your firm. There’s rarely anything you can do to stop this. But you can reduce the impact by considering whether or not to reply in real time. This means reviewing any such references.

You can set up automated alerts to notify you when your firm’s name is referenced online (e.g.: google alerts). You can also set up a standard search on twitter to check every day or so.

If anyone has posted something negative you can then decide if it’s best ignored or if a comment/reply would be appropriate.

5 – Absence of social media policies

The more people there are in your firm the more likely you will want to establish social media policies for staff and partners.

Absence of policies and guidelines make it more difficult to take action if someone does something stupid. The normal employment rules apply as regards the actions you can and cannot take by reference to staff use of social media.

There is little point in just imposing social media policies without discussion. You need everyone to accept that the policies make sense and are practical. If they are onerous, impractical or unreasonable your policies could cause more problems than they solve.

Social media policies should address acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on social media generally. And then specifically: recruitment, bullying, defamation, data protection and privacy.

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What’s your angle?

Too many accountants struggle to distinguish themselves from their competition. This is a shame as it is what makes each of us different that makes us memorable and the reason why clients engage us.

Challenge this if you must. Tell me that no one cares about anything other than price.

If that’s what you believe then I’m sorry for you. It’s a fallacy promoted by those who choose to sell stuff at low prices. It’s not true for Apple, for the makers of quality cars, handbags or designer clothes. Nor is it true for EVERYONE seeking professional advice, tax advice or day to day compliance services.

Of course price is all that matters to SOME people. Personally though I’m happy for those people to choose someone other than me to provide the service they seek. Typically those who only want to pay a low fee do not become valued clients; they are often more trouble to deal with and getting paid is rarely easy either.

So, let’s get back to the point. Do you really feel that you are no different from hundreds of other accountants? If that’s what YOU feel then it’s no wonder that prospective clients think the same and may choose to go elsewhere.

When you talk about what you do for clients, do you sound the same as everyone else? If so, you are missing a trick. The same goes for your website, online profiles and any physical marketing materials you use.

What do you add beyond the basics? It’s the differences that matter and that make it worth while someone choosing to engage you rather than the accountant down the road. What’s your angle? Often it’s your point of view that makes you unique and can help you to STAND OUT from your competitors. If you haven’t formulated any strong opinions on work related topics you may struggle to convince prospective clients why they will get a better service from you than from others. Just be careful to ensure that your views are based on informed facts rather than a naive acceptance of biased comment in the media.

Think back to the most common questions you are asked by prospective clients. Do you have a unique take that might resonate with them and help them to recognise that you’re the sort of professional they want to engage?

What’s your angle?

 

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What do clients pay you for?

Are you one of those accountants in practice, who still charges fees by reference to the time you spend working on a client’s affairs?

Even if you have moved to fixed pricing, menu pricing or value pricing you may still complete timesheets to show how much of your day has been devoted to each different client.

Thinking back to when I was in practice it was many years before I realised that a timesheet may have uses as a management tool but that it did not ‘prove’ how much time had been spent doing anything. It was a guide, nothing more.

After I left practice in 2006 I continued running training courses (very different to the talks I give now) and I asked accountants what they would bill in a variety of situations. The varied answers proved that the timesheet was simply a guide and that the ‘time costs’ that it reveals are rarely the same as the fees billed (or that could be billed).

A quick search online reveals that many accountants websites still assert that “Accountants sell time”. What nonsense. This is a sad misconception. It’s based on a misunderstanding and it’s misleading. Some accountants may try to determine SOME OF their fees by reference to time. They may try to charge fees by reference to their time records but TIME is not generally what accountants sell. If it were then the corollary would be that TIME is what people who want an accountant set out to buy. And they don’t.

In my view accountants sell (or should focus on selling) Trust, Confidence and Peace of Mind. These are 3 of the key qualities, if not THE 3 key qualities, that clients seek when they want to appoint an accountant. If prospective clients do not quickly trust you, have confidence that you will do the necessary, and gain peace of mind that they can rely on you, you will not keep them as clients; indeed they may not appoint you in the first place.

Yes they may have more specific needs – such as to prepare accounts, complete tax returns or resolve issues with HMRC. They don’t really care how long it takes you to provide your services. They just want things done. What do you think clients pay you for?

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Are your clients indifferent or do you get all the referrals you want?

Some professional advisers, such as accountants, claim that they secure much of their new work through word of mouth referrals. This suggests that clients are making positive comments about them. They may do that if they’re particularly happy but in the same way any unhappy clients will be quick to share their negative views even if they don’t express their disappointment to your face.

I’ve heard a large number of people talking about their accountants in recent years and it’s fair to categorise those views as good, bad, or most often – indifferent. Well at least it’s not ugly!

Let’s explore these different views and the wider lessons we can learn.

Good

Expressing a positive feeling that the accountant is doing a good job should mean that everything is good enough (or great!). Clients imply that their accountant does what they want, when they want it and for a fee that they consider to be good value for money. A good feeling is even more likely if the client indicates that they get pro-active advice and are very happy to recommend their accountant to friends and family.

Bad

Negative perceptions are sadly all to common. These clients feel that they’re putting up with bad service, high fees and/or get little of value. They certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone they know to use the accountant.

Indifferent

This is how I describe those clients who think their adviser is ‘okay’ or ‘good enough’. This might be because the accountant doesn’t wow the clients with great service nor do they feel that the accountant is charging excessive fees.

Sadly it seems to me that a high proportion of people think their accountant is just ‘okay’. The fact that they haven’t complained doesn’t mean we can assume that they think their accountant is ‘good’. It also means that the client is more at risk of moving to a new pro-active client than their current accountant might assume.

‘My accountant is great’

I saw this comment on a business forum a while back. I asked the person concerned what made them say that? Here’s the reply:

“He keeps things very straightforward in his explanations not that I have any particularly complex matters to deal with but he acts quickly, keeps costs to a reasonable amount (not cheap but sufficient value), makes himself available as and when needed and I get comfort from the fact that he has a successful practice, nice small modern offices and polite and helpful staff. When I have required explanations re: overseas investments, capital gains tax, what I can put against tax to minimise it legally, he delivers his knowledge in an easy to assimilate manner”.

I think that’s about it in a nutshell. Of course different clients want different things from their accountants. And different elements of your service and style will appeal to different clients.

Conclusion

If your clients are getting the service and attention  they want from you at a price they’re happy to pay then they MIGHT be expressing a positive view about you to other people. They’ll only do so when asked though. Are you consciously doing anything to ensure that your clients see you as good, rather than bad, or do you risk them being indifferent?

It’s only if your clients think you’re really good that they’ll be saying positive things about you. And if you rely on word of mouth referrals for new clients, you may find that we are moving into an age when you need to adopt a more active approach to encouraging these.

What do you do to actively encourage positive word of mouth referrals?

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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the game of chasing followers, likes, connections and social media klout. It may be fun to keep track of these metrics and to keep increasing them. But, in real life, they are not important by themselves.

There is little point in simply pursuing these metrics. You need to have key business focused targets instead. It may be that you want to raise your profile and to become a go-to person for media comment in your area of expertise.  Most accountants and lawyers for example, are experimenting with social media to generate additional fees.

And that is the key metric that you need to measure. How much of the additional fees you generate can be attributed to your online social media activity? There will rarely be a quick or short payback in this regard.

It is also important to note the 3 factors that will influence the speed with which you can gain a payback. These factors are all relevant whether your social media activity is focused around facebook, online forums, blogging, twitter or Linkedin.

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

How effective is your use of the social media platform? How consistent and congruent are your messages, your profile and your online activity?

2 – Your website

Most accountants using social media will include links back to their website.  Your social media activity may be exemplary but your website could be a turn off. Does it reinforce the messages you have been promoting on social media? Does it engage visitors? How easy is it for them to get in touch with YOU (as distinct from a faceless ‘admin’ person)? Does your website even reference your name and profile?

3 – Offline follow up

Just like with any other form of networking, personal contact is crucial. If you are not leveraging your use of social media to meet with people face to face or at least to speak with them on the phone, you will wait longer to secure a valuable ROI.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any other factors that will determine your success of your social media activity?

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How to build your personal brand

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? What would you like them to say?

Few accountants seem to think this through. If you are clear about what you want people to say though you are likely to find success a lot faster than anyone who is ‘just another’ accountant.

There are two elements to consider here. What do you want people to say about:

  • what you do (as an accountant)? and, separately
  • you as a person?

I addressed the first question in a recent blog post. That second question though is especially tough. You need to be somewhat self aware and self analytical to address this successfully.

For example, do you want to be remembered as a thoughtful person who listens to others? Or as someone who is self-absorbed and who talks at people without really taking any notice of what they say?

Do you know how you come across? Or what people currently say about you?

We each create an impression by what we say, how we say it and how we react to other people. This is true of face to face encounters but also of our online engagements on social media and Linkedin. It can be instructive to reflect on the way that other people will remember us.

These memories that other people hold become our personal brand. And if it’s not what we want it to be then it’s upto us to change things.

Going back to the first of the two questions, you also want to provide some clarity about your role as an accountant. People need to know your areas of expertise and of specialism. I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again, you are different to all the other accountants out there. You are You. You have your past experiences and interests to draw on. If you make no effort to distinguish yourself, you will struggle longer than those accountants who are memorable and distinct.

We have all heard the old phrase: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. The implication being that to be successful, you need to accept that your knowledge and skills are less useful and less important than your network of personal contacts.

I think that old phrase is no longer correct. The truth is that these days, It’s BOTH what you know and who you know. And who knows you. And, this is crucial, What they say about you*.  YOU can determine this by how you behave and by what you say both in real life and online. Take control and build your personal brand to be more successful than those who leave it to chance.

* My friend, Andy Lopata, stresses this point in many of his presentations.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to stand out and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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25 reasons people change their accountants

The following list is a salutary lesson in what not to do if you want to keep your clients.

I have collated these points from various ideas found around the web. Such lists are normally aimed at encouraging clients of one accountant to move to another one.  I thought it would be instructive to consider the same points from the perspective of an accountant.

Some of what follows will be facts. Some will be feelings and some will be false. But, even in the latter case, as I have often said: Perception is Reality. If any of your clients think of you as boring or uninterested you may well be at risk of them being poached by a more stand out and successful accountant.

You are at risk of clients being tempted away if:

  1. Their phone calls are not returned promptly
  2. Promises, expectations and agreed deadlines not met.
  3. Their work is not completed on a timely basis affording clients practically no time to make changes or ask questions.
  4. You are providing poor value for money.
  5. You are not evidently trying to help them to pay less tax.
  6. You are not providing what they perceive to be a proactive service.
  7. You make mistakes or have to accept there is a better solution when clients question your advice.
  8. They have unexpected tax liabilities
  9. They get charged penalties and interest charges about which you had not forewarned them
  10. You charge unexpected or additional fees without warning clients of these in advance.
  11. You seem to lack sufficient relevant technical knowledge.
  12. Your resources are limited such that clients don’t feel they are getting prompt attention.
  13. You are only really in contact with them once a year.
  14. Their business has out-grown you and the resources you are able to muster.
  15. They perceive that you are more interested in last year’s accounts than planning for the future.
  16. You rarely talk about ways to help them increase their profits.
  17. You have not discussed (in recent years) their exit plans – for selling the business or retirement.
  18. You never call them to enquire “How’s business?”
  19. You never ask them tough business questions.
  20. They perceive that you use too much jargon such they they find it difficult to understand you.
  21. They feel that they never know what you will charge them
  22. You don’t explain your ideas, preferring instead to act “the expert”, and expecting them to find enjoyment and value in listening to you pontificate.
  23. They perceive you to routinely say “no” rather than listening to what they want to do.
  24. They perceive that you don’t attempt to formulate ideas to help them reach their true goals.
  25. They perceive that you only talk numbers and taxes, nothing else. Clients feel absolutely no chemistry or rapport with you.

I doubt that all clients would have the same perceptions.  But if you think about that subset of your client base who may be unhappy you can at least start to turn things around with them. The actions to take are implicit in the above list.

The bottom line is to help ensure that clients recognise that you are interested in them, that you care about them and that you are helping them. Any client that perceives you to do be doing those 3 things will see you as a standout accountant. And that will help you to become more successful too.

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Lifetime achievement award for Robert Maas

I was thrilled to be seated with Robert when he was announced as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Taxation Awards ceremony last night. I am proud to count him as a friend and as one of my tax mentors.

In the light of last night’s award I think it appropriate to share my own thanks and admiration for Robert. Here is a man who really stands out in my eyes.

Whilst I no longer give tax advice I did initially start my career in tax shortly after qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1982. Robert was already well known and respected in the tax world even then. I believe he started in tax in 1965, the year that Corporation Tax and CGT were first introduced. It is also almost 50 years ago!

Some years later I think I met Robert at a conference. I assume I must have already started writing on tax matters as Robert recognised my name. He encouraged me to join the London Society of Chartered Accountants Tax Committee. Robert was the Chairman at the time. I was so proud and thrilled to be invited. In time I became Vice-Chairman of the Committee. Robert also then encouraged me to join the ICAEW Tax Faculty Committee, which in turn then led to me being invited to stand for election as Vice Chairman and then Deputy Chairman of the Faculty.

I benefitted from working with Robert on various Institute committees over the years including the ICAEW Tax Technical Committee, the Personal Tax and Finance Committee and the main Faculty Committee. I think I also provided a little support when he initiated the Faculty’s Younger members’ Tax Club and also the Faculty’s Tax Investigations Committee. Over the years Robert has kindly invited me to speak to various groups of which he is the prime mover. It is also due to this chain of events that he started which led to me recently being appointed Chairman of the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Committee.

In 2001 when I left BDO I seriously considered moving out of the tax world. I remember Robert, on hearing me suggest this after the CTA Address that year, taking me for a drink and persuading me to stick with it. He complimented my communication skills and said my departure would be a loss for the Tax World. I always thought he was exaggerating but I took his advice and this also allowed me to then go on to be Chairman of the Tax Faculty from 2003-2005. In the end I stayed active as a tax adviser until 2006 when I finally gave in and concluded that my brain just isn’t big enough.

During one of my talks (at least) I quote Robert. He taught me long ago that there is no shame in admitting you don’t know the answer to a tax question or problem. Despite his general reluctance to accept how highly regarded he is, he did tell me once that he couldn’t understand how any general practitioners could cope without ever engaging tax specialists. “If I have to stop and check with someone else every now and then, how much more likely is it that someone less experienced should need to do the same and more often?”

Robert is a giant in the tax world. But he is also a very unassuming man. Nevertheless I am aware that there are many other tax practitioners who have been influenced by Robert during their careers. Whether by attending one of his lectures, reading one of his books or articles or through his personal encouragement to join a committee. Many more people have been influenced by Robert than probably even he knows.

I recall attending Robert’s 65th birthday party some years ago – I have lost track of how many. I was so touched and proud to be invited. More recently Robert has taken up blogging. He loves tax and although he is still in practice at Blackstone Franks, he continues to write regular articles for the professional press. But if no one wants to publish what he has written he posts it on his blog – ‘Two cheers for the Chancellor’. This now has over 130 insightful and educational pieces on it and is well worth reading. Robert has also taken to LinkedIn but is reluctant to connect with anyone there he doesn’t know.

I don’t imagine Robert will ever retire. For now though his unswerving commitment to the tax profession has been recognised and rightly so. The announcement last night was met with a standing ovation. Robert is well-loved and much respected – with good reason.

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